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lafalott Belfast - A travel report by Katrina
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Belfast,  United Kingdom - flag United Kingdom
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lafalott's travel reports

A short stay in Belfast

  12 votes
Culture and history play a large part in Northern Irelands identity. This can be seen everywhere in Belfast, from the character pubs, to the troubled areas surrounding the city center.


Bombed building that have not been fixed yet.
Bombed building that have not been fixed yet.
When people heard I was visiting Belfast I got alot of "be careful's" and precautions. So even before I arrived in the city I was thinking the worst. It turned out to be a lovely trip, I only wish I had more time there.

If you have healthy legs and a few days to take in the sights, everything is within walking distance. Otherwise you can take a city sightseeing bus tour that lasts about 1.5hrs and takes you to all the major sights (where you can get off if you wish) and gives you information about the history as well (Citysightseeing Belfast, depart from Castle Place).

As you travel around the city there are still lots of signs of violence and unrest from the past. Frames of bombed buildings still stand all over the city, perhaps most noticeably in the city center.

There are not many obvious signs of tension among the people in the city center, since it has gotten popular to move there from the surrounding suburbs. So people from both sides of the conflict live together. However, there is the odd action that still shows tension. When I was there it was the anniversary of the death of a hunger striker, Bobby Sands. So there were some university students outside city hall handing out flyers to the public. As we were walking by a student was just holding flyers, not forcing them onto people and a man in a business suite walked by and slapped the flyers out of the students hand sending them flying all over the place. That was the only sign, while I was there, that there is still tension between groups.

In case you don't know much about 'The Troubles' in Northern Ireland, I will try and give a little history in this report (mostly at the end). There are two sides to the conflict, the Protestants (Unionists) and the Catholics (Nationalists), each having strong, conflicting views on economy, religion and politics (and probably more..). The Unionists wanted Ireland to become a part of Britian, and the Nationalists did not want this. ..contd at the end.

Favourite spots:
Mural off the a main street
Mural off the a main street
What I was looking most forward to seeing were the "troubled spots" in and around Belfast in hopes of some insight to the problems, specifically, Shankill Road and Falls Road. Throughout these areas you will see walls higher than double decker busses and lots of fences (many with barbed wire) in order to separate the two groups. There are even still bullet holes in buildings that have not yet been fixed from the violence (bombs, gun fire). The other aspect of these areas that brings many tourists are the murals. There are continually new murals being made, while others are destroyed by weather or human actions. You have to look closely for many murals because they are not always on a main street, but instead on the side of a building just off a main street. It was a shame that I did not know alot about the conflict in Northern Ireland, this really showed since I did not understand many of the murals. I would recommend reading about the history before visiting.

What's really great:
Belfast City Hall
Belfast City Hall
Go on a free tour of Belfast City hall. The tour starts in the main entrance which is made from four kinds of marbel, 1 from Greece and 3 from Italy. The tour is then lead up the Grand Staircase (where you feel like royalty!) to the Rotunda where you will see a mural painted by the famous Belfast artist, John Luke. This mural shows all the occupations of Belfast during the time it was painted. Off the Rotunda you are lead into the Council Chamber, where the Belfast City Council sits once a month in order to conduct business. Next up as you walk through the hallways studying the paintings of past Lord Mayors (that they have commissioned by themselves), since some are very serious and others are more humorous. Once you reach the reception, banqueting and Great halls you will be stunned by their vastness since the biggest of the halls sits 400 guests! At the end of the tour there is currently an exhibition since it is the 100th year anniversary since the city hall was first completed.

Sights:
Clock Tower
Clock Tower
If you are interested in the Titanic, Belfast is the place to be since it was built here. Right now there is a small museum near the ship yards (Titanic Quarter) but they are in the process of building a newer and better museum. Also in these shipyards you can see two huge ship cranes (I dont know what they are actually called) nicknamed 'David and Goliath' which are now protected from being moved.

If you take a bus tour they will tell you a bit about the history in the "troubled areas", where certain fights were, and bombes went off.

As you walk around the city you will see certain areas and buildings that are guarded by checkpoints and/or bomb proof walls. The court house, jail, and some police stations are like this.

The main University building is unlike any I have ever seen...

Old Clock Tower is Belfasts own leaning tower. It looks more crooked from some angles than others!

Downtown shopping - located in and around Castle place.

Accommodations:
We stayed at Belfast International Youth Hostel which was about 15 minutes walk from the city center. Everything is brand new and in excellent shape. The only thing that could use better up keep is the guest kitchen - the oven was broken and lots of the cutlery, plates, and wash clothes were dirty. The hostel is conveniently located for nightlife, about half a block away from clubs and bars. As well, it is a 10 minute walk from the University. It is very affordable and I would recommend it to anyone!

Nightlife:
The Crown Bar and Robinsons
The Crown Bar and Robinsons
Two pubs that we visited were The Crown Bar and Robinsons. The Crown boasts to be the oldest bar in Belfast. It is very unique inside with stained glass windows and carved wood, and little alcoves with tables where groups can enjoy a private, cosy atmosphere.

Robinsons had younger clientel. If you enter from the Robinsons side, you will find a sports bar, with class. There are doors at the back of the bar that lead to an ajoining bar where you can hear live music.

Other recommendations:
I did not have time for this, but the hills and mountains outside the city look awesome for hiking!

'The Troubles':
As Unionists worked to put Ireland under Britains rule, Nationalists worked against them (IRA - Irish Republican Army). In 1921 a treaty passed that divided Ireland into 26-counties, where the majority population in Northern Ireland was protestant. The government at the time chose to rework the government in favour of the Unionists thus started the Unionist discrimination against catholics.

With the 1960's came the Civil Rights movement in Northern Ireland, giving the catholics power of voice for the first time since the formation of the Northern Ireland state. A number of civil rights demostrations followed, including police brutality against the demostrators. The riots escalated until British troups had to be brought in to control people. This power struggle is the basis of 'The Troubles' but there is lots more to it...http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/war/tr-oubles/

Published on Sunday May 14th, 2006


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Mon, May 15 2006 - 11:08 AM rating by st.vincent

Very nice report Katrina, it is always nice to read an overseas visitors view of the troubles and the tensions still within the city.

Mon, May 15 2006 - 06:13 AM rating by marianne

Katrina,
You give some good information but I would have liked some more explanation about 'the troubles'. especially non-Europeans may not be familiar with this and as you mention it in the report some more about the conflict would make your report easier to understand. You have some place left in the last section: 'other recommendations', so you could still add some.
Marianne

Sun, May 14 2006 - 12:03 PM rating by terje

Yes, Katrina, the report would have been more informative if you knew more of the history. I havnt been there myself either, but maybe I go for the next Bloomsday? :-) Anyway, thanks for another brave report!

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